BOAT BUYER BE­WARE

IS THAT USED BOAT A LE­MON? HERE’S HOW TO FIND OUT

Sport Fishing - - NEW PRODUCTS - BY JIM HEN­DRICKS

Nearly a mil­lion used boats were sold in the United States in 2016, ac­cord­ing to the lat­est sta­tis­tics from the Na­tional Marine Man­u­fac­tur­ers As­so­ci­a­tion. That’s up by 2.5 per­cent from 2015, and it speaks to the cur­rent vi­tal­ity of the recre­ational-boat­ing mar­ket.

Used boats sell for less than com­pa­ra­ble new boats. That means that pre-owned mod­els can grant bud­get­con­scious an­glers eas­ier en­try to the boat­ing mar­ket. What’s more, used boats present many boat­ing an­glers the op­por­tu­nity to up­grade to larger, more pow­er­ful boats for less money than sim­i­larly sized and equipped new boats.

Yet, buy­ing a used boat can be a gam­ble be­cause the qual­ity of the hull, en­gines, tran­som, stringers, wir­ing, elec­tron­ics, fuel tank and other sys­tems is far less pre­dictable than with a new model. While the pur­chase price might look at­trac­tive, the num­ber of fac­tors to con­sider ex­pands ex­po­nen­tially when buy­ing a used boat. In ad­di­tion, used boats rarely come with war­ranties. Most sell “as is.” Here, more than ever, the best ad­vice is caveat emp­tor — buyer be­ware.

HUR­RI­CANE HULLS

An omi­nous trend, aris­ing from the 2017 hur­ri­cane sea­son, has added new pit­falls to the used-boat mar­ket. More than 63,000 boats suf­fered dam­age as a re­sult of these hur­ri­canes — pri­mar­ily Har­vey, which struck the Texas Gulf Coast, and Irma, which made land­fall in South Florida — ac­cord­ing to Vir­ginia-based boat-owner or­ga­ni­za­tion BoatUS.

While many of those boats proved wor­thy of re­pair and restora­tion, many did not. That means storm-dam­aged ves­sels might find their way into the used-boat mar­ket at the hands of un­scrupu­lous sellers, ac­cord­ing to BoatUS.

How can you pro­tect your­self? Here are tips to help a used-boat buyer avoid a le­mon, be it the re­sult of poor main­te­nance, storm dam­age or other cat­a­strophic event.

1 SUR­VEY SAYS

The first step is a pre­pur­chase Con­di­tion and Value sur­vey, says BoatUS con­sumer af­fairs di­rec­tor, Charles Fort. “It’s not that you don’t want to buy a boat that has been re­paired, but you should have full knowl­edge of the re­pairs and know they were done cor­rectly,” Fort says. “It’s a trans­parency is­sue that will help you ne­go­ti­ate a fair price.”

Boat shoppers should be pre­pared to pay for such a sur­vey by a qual­i­fied marine sur­veyor. These can range any­where from $20 to $22 per foot on av­er­age, with the min­i­mum start­ing around $350, ac­cord­ing to BoatUS. There are some­times vari­ables with boat type — the more sys­tems, the

greater the cost. It’s money well-spent in root­ing out a le­mon or as­sur­ing you that the boat you’re pur­chas­ing is sound and sea­wor­thy. A marine sur­veyor will also pro­vide a valu­a­tion of a used boat, giv­ing you an idea if the price is fair. You can learn more about marine sur­veys at the BoatUS web­site.

2 TRACE THE HIS­TORY

When a car is to­taled by an in­surance com­pany, the ti­tle is branded as sal­vaged or re­built, and buy­ers know up front that the ve­hi­cle sus­tained ma­jor dam­age at some point in its his­tory. Yet only a few states brand sal­vaged boats. Florida and Texas, for ex­am­ple, do not — im­por­tant since this is where Irma and Har­vey struck, re­spec­tively.

Also, some states don’t re­quire ti­tles for boats, so there’s no way to tell if a boat was to­taled. Un­scrupu­lous sellers wish­ing to ob­scure a boat’s his­tory need only cross state lines to avoid de­tec­tion. This in it­self might be a tipoff to po­ten­tial buy­ers. Look for re­cent gaps in the boat’s own­er­ship, which can mean that it was at an auc­tion or in a re­pair yard for a long time.

3 COLOR CHECK

Ed­u­cated eyes can tell if a boat has been re­cently re­paired. This is es­pe­cially true with older boats. Since gel­coat tends to yel­low or dis­color with age, match­ing the color of old gel­coat can very dif­fi­cult. Mis­matched col­ors around a cer­tain area of the hull or deck serve as a giveaway that a boat has un­der­gone re­pair.

One scam in­volves patch­ing holes in the hull with a filler such as Bondo rather than un­der­tak­ing proper fiber­glass re­pair. Fillers pos­sess lit­tle struc­tural strength and can fail cat­a­stroph­i­cally at sea.

Try tap­ping on the sus­pected area, and if it sounds far dif­fer­ent when you tap on other, non-dis­col­ored ar­eas of the boat, you may have dis­cov­ered a wacky re­pair job. Walk away or call in a marine sur­veyor for an in-depth in­spec­tion.

4 LOOK FOR FRESH SEALANT

Boats that bang against a dock dur­ing a storm of­ten suf­fer dam­age around the hull-to-deck joint, which is usu­ally hid­den un­der the rub rail. In se­vere pound­ings, the deck cap can sep­a­rate from the hull. In these cases, the rub rail re­quires re­moval so the en­tire joint can be in­spected and then, if nec­es­sary, re­paired. This calls for proper fiber­glass work and re­bolt­ing the deck to the hull.

Fresh sealant along the joint is an in­di­ca­tion of re­cent re­pairs. Make sure those re­pairs were done prop­erly and that the sealant is not hid­ing the un­re­paired dam­age or shoddy work­man­ship.

5 EVIDENCE OF SINK­ING

Check for cor­ro­sion on in­te­rior hard­ware, such as rust on all hinges and drawer pulls. You might be able to spot an in­te­rior wa­ter­line in­side a locker or an area hid­den be­hind an in­te­rior struc­ture. Also, look for cor­ro­sion on elec­tri­cal items such as lamps, connectors, ter­mi­nal blocks and pumps, and be­hind breaker pan­els. These are all in­di­ca­tions that the boat sank at some point and, as a re­sult, might be a le­mon.

6 EX­AM­INE IN­TE­RIOR RE­PAIRS

Fresh paint or gel­coat work on the in­side of the hull and en­gine room are usu­ally ob­vi­ous. All new cush­ions and cur­tains might be a tipoff too. While these are not nec­es­sar­ily signs that the boat is a storm-dam­aged le­mon, they are fac­tors to con­sider and add to the weight of evidence.

7 IN­SPECT THE EN­GINE

Look for fresh paint on the en­gine, be it an in­board or out­board mo­tor. The paint could be cov­er­ing cor­ro­sion or other dam­age. Ask the seller if you can have a marine me­chanic check out the en­gine (at your ex­pense) for a com­pres­sion check and a re­port on other vi­tal signs.

8 ASK THE SELLER

In some states, a seller isn’t re­quired to dis­close if a boat was badly dam­aged un­less you ask. If the seller hems and haws or you get a bad feel­ing about the an­swer, keep look­ing. In ad­di­tion, as with buy­ing any boat — new or used — you should ask to take a test drive. Make sure you take the boat out into choppy water for a thor­ough sea trial. Any slip­shod re­pairs or en­gine dam­age might well be­come ev­i­dent in rough water.

LOOK FOR RE­CENT GAPS IN THE BOAT’S OWN­ER­SHIP, WHICH CAN MEAN THAT IT WAS AT AN AUC­TION OR IN A RE­PAIR YARD FOR A LONG TIME.

A storm-dam­aged fish­ing boat is not nec­es­sar­ily a le­mon, but used-boat buy­ers need to look closely at the re­pair work to make sure it was done prop­erly.

Hur­ri­canes Har­vey and Irma sank many boats in Florida, Texas and else­where. Some of these ves­sels are find­ing their way into the used-boat mar­ket, so buy­ers need to be­ware of storm-dam­aged lemons.

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